People have predicted the noble bike messenger’s extinction for years. Yet the influence—if not raw numbers on streets long since bathed in invisible wireless communication—of this urban subspecies thrives on. When you see an office worker stride onto the MAX with a combative bag slung ’cross his or her chest, battered sneaks where once wingtips would have trod, you’re seeing the surviving mutations of the style DNA evolved among traffic-dodging couriers.
Chrome Industries, a cycling-accessory maker known for messenger-style bags with straps snapped with seat belt–style buckles, moves its headquarters from San Francisco to Portland this spring. And as the 22-year-old company looks to build on its eight national retail locations and 25 percent year-on-year growth, the mobile urbanite, both on and off two wheels, will be its focus.
“Of course, we’re seeing more and more people who ride every day,” Chrome’s new president, Slate Olson, says of the growing commuter market. “But if you move through the city with purpose, we want to be a brand you trust.”
Olson, a longtime Portlander who took over in advance of Chrome’s April move, comes to the company with deep cycling cred: he served as chief marketing officer for the Portland-based North American HQ of Rapha, a high-style British cycling brand, and is fresh from a stint in the Bay Area at bike maker Specialized. Among his priorities, he wants to bolster Chrome’s apparel and footwear lines. For the Eugene native and Nike vet, Portland exerts a pull sufficient to bring almost two dozen Chrome corporate jobs north; the company already runs a Swan Island R&D lab and has a retail shop here.
After 2016–17’s winter of discontent—with its challenging weather, escalating traffic, and political unease—the move may seem optimistic. In recent years, Portland has seen cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, and San Francisco displace it in various subjective rankings of cycle-friendliness. Are our “bike culture” and urban fabric still viable business assets?
“We’re all aware of the ecosystem there,” Olson says. “It’s getting tested in various ways, but at its roots Portland is a progressive city, and that’s in every way. You have those masses and throngs crossing the bridges every day; you have companies like Chris King and River City Bikes. We’re very excited about the talent in a city where people just don’t really settle for average.”